April 13, 2011

Fear and Anger are the Same Mind State

Sharon Salzberg, from the week 2 talk of her Tricycle Retreat, "The Five Hindrances: Desire and Aversion"

Aversion in Buddhist psychology is quite interesting, because it's both anger and fear. Anger and fear are considered in many ways to be the same mind state, just in different forms. Anger is the outflowing, expressive energized form and fear is the held in, frozen, imploding form.

Aversion is also an effort to be in control. It's kind of like an opposite energy of clinging, but with a similar base. We think if we can fight enough, struggle enough, and push away enough then whatever has come up will not have come up and we will be able to be in control of the unfolding of events. But look at what we get angry at, all these things that we cannot control, what arises in our minds. We get so frustrated, thinking, "I don't know, I've worked so hard, I've been meditating for six months, ten years, whatever. This stuff still comes up. It's bad. It's wrong. I'm a failure" or "I've been in psychotherapy all this time and anger still comes up. I'm bad. I'm wrong. I'm a failure." Yet, can we ever fully control what  arises in our mind? Certainly from the Buddhist point of view we'd say no, that what arises is born out of a combination of conditions coming together. We can change those conditions, we can influence them, but we cannot say with total determination and be successful, "I will never be afraid again" or "I've grieved enough, it's over" or "I'll never fall asleep while meditating again." What arises is a combination of conditions. What we can change and what we do change is our immediate relationship to what comes up.

We don't need to feel victimized by what's happening and we don't need to hate what's happening. We can have a radically different relationship to what comes up.


To take part in this retreat, please become a Tricycle Community Supporting or Sustaining Member. Sharon Salzberg's new book Real Happiness is available to Tricycle Community members for the month of April with a 20% discount, free shipping in the US, and free e-book for instant download.

Image: The light in there was blinding, full of God and hate and truth by Mike + Doug Starn. Available in the Tricycle Gallery

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Wisdom Moon's picture

I would have said that fear and anger are not the same state of mind, but they have the same root, which is apprehending an inherently existent I. Anger is born from fear, because whatever one fears, anger is used to protect oneself from. We fear what we don't understand, so the root of fear is ignorance. Also, anger is a mind rooted in ignorance, believing that the unpleasant characteristics of a person exist independent of our perception of them. In reality, our mind projects unpleasant qualities onto an object through inappropriately focusing on perceived faults and exaggerating them, and we then hold those qualities to exist within the object, from its own side, but this is incorrect. The truth is that the object of aversion is made by our own mind.